It’s been a while since we touched on our kitchen tool topic. And just recently, we had someone ask what kind of pan we used in our ginger snaps recipe. So it must be time to throw up some links and information on another tool we wouldn’t be without in our kitchen (in fact, we recently just added another one).
Stoneware pans – these two are Pampered Chef Large Bar Pans. The one on the left has been in use for years in our kitchen, and the other is fresh out of the box…so you can see the “patina” they put on with good use (I’ve seen some that are much darker than ours). At roughly 15″ x 10″ (by 1″ deep), these are basically the same size as a standard cookie sheet, and are the workhorse pan for nearly anything that goes in the oven.
Here are the other two we currently have – a large round stone (the version available now even has handles) and the small bar pan. The round stone started life as a pizza stone, but is useful for just about anything else that doesn’t require having a lipped edge to retain liquids (which is part of the reason it isn’t as dark as the others). And, of course, the small pan is like a Mini-Me of the bigger bar pans – good for smaller portions or when you want things tighter together in the oven.
What makes these pans so nice is how they cook. Like good cast iron, they heat evenly all the way through – eliminating hot spots that will leave some areas burned with other areas barely cooked. And they retain heat when they come out of the oven, so they will keep food on them warm for a noticeable period of time before serving too.
These pans are a lot like cast iron in other ways as well. Though the Pampered Chef site states they are “virtually nonporous,” they do have a texture on the surface that will season with use and become virtually non-stick. There is no need for parchment paper unless you want to make the clean-up easier (such as removing granola from the pan when cooled). This also means it is important to never wash them with soapy water – though I’ve never had anything stuck on that I couldn’t get off with some hot tap water, a nylon scraper, and a stiff nylon bristle brush.
Like cast iron, it is a good idea to season the pans the first time they are used (though it is not essential…and a bit harder with the non-rimmed pans). The best way we’ve found to do this is simply bake bacon in a new pan for its “inaugural” trip into the oven. And don’t worry about the taste of one food “ruining” the pan for the next thing you cook – we’ve done baked salmon at night and snickerdoodles the next day with no hint of fishiness in the cookies (or snickerdoodleness in the subsequent garlic-roasted broccoli).
Now, there are some caveats to consider when using stoneware pans. One is that they are heavy. Of course, this shouldn’t be a problem for those of us doing some regular exercise…but you may want to consider the weight of a slab of clay the size of a cookie sheet before buying your grandmother a set for her birthday (unless, of course, she’s been hitting the gym with you).
Another consideration is that they are made of clay. So while they are durable and hefty, they are also brittle and susceptable to breaking if dropped onto a hard surface (so break the fall with your toe if you drop one!), hit with something hard (don’t smack them together), or placed into a thermal shock (pour cold water on one that has just come out of the oven and see what it does). That said, we’ve not had one break yet in our kitchen.
The final thing to consider, for me at least, is related to how well they retain heat. You need to be mindful of this when you go to grab the pan 15 or so minutes after it has come out of the oven – it will still be pretty warm, and possibly too warm to touch without a mitt or towel. This can also have an impact when making multiple trays of something (like cookies), where subsequent items placed on the warm sheet may start to melt a little before going in the oven. This can be avoided by simply waiting to place the new cookies on the pan until just before you are ready to put it back in the oven.
So, there you have it. After years of old-fashioned sheet metal and “air-bake” oven pans, nothing compares to the results, consistency, and easy clean-up of quality stoneware pans. If one of these ever does break, you can bet that I’ll have a replacement ordered soon after – possibly even before I start cleaning up the mess of the broken one.